One year after the catastrophic noises in Donald's junkyard had started, they stopped, and Donald himself came running out, dripping grease and sweat.
"It's finished!" he cried. "I've done it!"
Curious heads poked from windows and doorways like a cluster of prairie dogs. Donald's clothes were a shameful mess of burnt rags, his hair a matted wad of peppery wool, his glasses sitting askew on his nose with one lense out and the other cracked.
But by God, he was so happy!
Missus Brown hopped down the porch steps, hands on her hips. "Donald! What have you done and finished? Not that-- that thing of yours?"
He rushed to her and grabbed her hands in his own, head bobbing up and down, mouth gaping in a half-toothless grin. "Yes! Yes, oh, yes!" He sprang away, leaving oil smears on her wrists.
By now the whole neighborhood was out of doors, murmering to each other, stroking their chins and shaking their heads at the man. Poor old Donald had woken up one morning a year ago and screamed about his latest revelation, that during his dreams he had been sent all the wisdom needed to build the ultimate invention: the time machine. He'd sold his home in exchange for a lemon of a trailer and moved into a junk heap down the road and the sounds of metal and sparks hadn't stopped until now. No one believed the nutty professor that he'd successfully built anything except a reputation, but Donald knew better.
"Everyone! My fellows and friends!" he called, waving his hands as he ran down the street. "I have built the world's first time machine, and today I will travel to the distant future, and tell the Earth its fortune! Please come to my home and wait for my return -- you'll be the first to hear what I see!"
"We may as well. It's sure to be interesting, at least," they conceded, and massed in the street around him. He took off back down the road and they followed at a casual pace. By the time they arrived in the rusted, greasy junkyard he called home, he had already strapped himself into his elaborite device. Seatbelts pilfered from numerous trucks criss-crossed his torso and limbs, and an aviator's helmet and goggles were fitted on his head. The machine itself was actually quite amazing, although everyone knew it wouldn't work, but it would make a lovely addition to an sculpture museum.
It was all piles and engines, bright wires and frosted glass, and the single velvet chair in front of the control panel (in fact an altered typewriter and clock). Donald waved at everyone as they arrived, grinning ear to ear. "Don't worry, my friends! I'll be alright!"
"What year are you going to?" they asked, stifling laughs.
"2050!" he said.
"Watch out for nuclear radiation! I bet someone will have dropped bombs by then!"
"Don't worry, I'll only be there for ten minutes, just long enough to see the state of the planet, and then I will return. Not nearly long enough to be irradiated!"
Donald slid the doors shut and locked them and then tapped away at the control panel, took a deep breath, and turned the dial on the clock a few dozen times. He gave everyone a hopeful but anxious smile and waved again. They waved back, grinning for different reasons, although a little worried he might electrocute himself. As far as they knew he had never so much as fixed a pocketwatch.
The machine vibrated softly at first, then suddenly built to a violent bucking, every pipe and hinge creaking and moaning as it rocked in every direction. Light bulbs blinked and flashed, the wires glowed and sparked, and the crowd hastily backed away to give it a wide berth. The whole contraption was on the verge of apparent explosion when--
There was a flash of blinding white light, and when it faded, the machine was gone.
The crowd stood with their mouths hanging open, eyes bulging, hearts thudding in their chests. He really had done it. He had built the first working time machine, and they had witnessed its first journey! They looked at each other with glowing faces and exchanged silent thoughts, having a million things to say about it all but being too stunned to speak.
Donald at first clenched his eyes shut as the light erupted around him, then slowly opened them, squinting at first. There was only a dull whisper of noise and the mildest sensation of motion. He looked around and through the glass saw inky black and rainbow splotches in abstract blobs streaking by. He grinned to himself as pure ecstacy burst within him.
"I've done it. I've--"
All at once, the motion ceased with a loud crunch and the colors were wiped away and replaced by a duller pallette. Donald's head smacked into the typewriter and bounced back and he was thankful for the helmet. He carefully unstrapped himself and winced, feeling bruises left by the belts during impact. He reached out for the door, and, seeing the bleak landscape around him, thought better of it.
Earth was barren, all signs of civilization long ago wiped away, leaving behind only choking dust and a gray pallor to the sky. Looking across the horizon, Donald saw the sun -- now a speck against the cold sky, a white dwarf near death.
Donald sat there and felt absolutely horrid when he realized he'd forgotten to bring a camera. He didn't even have a notebook or pencil to record the experience. Sigh.
Within minutes, he saw moving shapes shuffling across the rocky plain.
"Life!" he breathed. He grabbed a megaphone and shouted into it, hoping to be heard even from within his capsule and from across the distance. "Hey! Hello! I'm Donald, from the past!"
The figures paused and turned towards him, then approached, tentatively at first, then at a jog.
"Hi! Hi there...When did the nuclear war start? I need to warn them, in the past!" he continued. His words froze in his throat when the people got close enough for him to make out clearly.
They were hideously malformed, their limbs stretched and warped, their skin lumpy and bulging with oversized veins, their eyes pale and blind. Their clothes were an absolute mess and the both of them were bald as eggs.
"The radiation poisoning must be intense," he muttered to himself, then jumped in shock when the words echoed loudly, as he still had the megaphone to his mouth.
The beings got closer, reaching out their spindly hands like zombies, gurgling and screeching hideously at him. Their fingers scraped at the windows and grasped around the edge of the door as the people continued making their tortured noises. Donald shrank into his seat and started belting himself in again, praying that the stress of the time leap hadn't prevented escape. They almost had a hold of the door handle now...good God, he was thankful for setting the timer for only a ten-minute trip...
Light blinded him once again and spots danced before his eyes while the familiar black-and-rainbow tunnel whooshed backwards. The years flew by in amorphous blobs, counting down back to his own time, and just as he was getting used to the feeling of gentle motion, the contraption shuddered and clanked in collision as it hit the ground in the junkyard. The world blossomed around him in an instant and he breathed and swallowed, shaking and sweating. What a horrible future the world had! And he would be alive when it came! He felt sick to the stomach at the very notion of having to live through a nuclear war and the winter that would follow.
The crowd of people were still there, and excitedly pounded on the time machine, shouting gleefully at his return. "Donald, Donald! We knew you were right! We never doubted you!"
He flung the door open and stumbled into Mrs. Brown's arms, wiping tears from his eyes. "The fallout was horrible!"
"No!" they cried in unison. "A nuclear war?!"
He nodded, and launched into a dramatic retelling of the events amidst their groans and gasps.
The two Martians tripped and fell into the empty crater where once something quite noisy had been sitting. "Well, that certainly was odd," said the taller one. "That thing was here a minute ago. Did it perchance move away from us?"
The other one continued to grope around on the ground. "Nope," it said, shaking its head. "It's gone."
"What do you suppose it was? It certainly was noisy."
"I don't know. Maybe an alien spaceship!"
"How ludicrous. Aliens don't exist. Come on, let's get back home."